Breach, Data Security, Network Security

Court doc: Equifax allegedly used insecure password ‘admin’ to protect portal

Failing to patch a critical vulnerability in its Apache Struts software was not the only major security oversight committed by Equifax in the lead-up to a highly damaging data breach in 2017, according to a document filed as part of a securities fraud class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year.

An order and opinion filed last January by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia alleges that the credit reporting agency failed to implement adequate authentication measures as well, as demonstrated by its reliance on the highly insecure username/password combination “admin/admin” to protect a portal used to manage credit disputes.

Yahoo! Finance has credited Buzzfeed reporter Jane Lytvynenko with initially reporting this and other excerpts from the court order in a series of tweets that resulted in a viral response and additional news reports. “The details from his Equifax class-action suit are BONKERS,” said Lytvynenko in one tweet.

In his court order and opinion, Judge Thrash Jr. denied a motion by defendants Equifax and former Equifax CEO Richard Smith to dismiss the lawsuit. He did, however, grant a dismissal for three other corporate officers: John Gamble, Jr., Rodolfo Ploder, and Jeffrey Dodge.

Other damaging allegations referenced in the judge’s opinion included Equifax’s lack of encryption when storing sensitive consumer data.

“According to the Amended Complaint, Equifax admitted that sensitive personal information relating to hundreds of millions of Americans was not encrypted, but instead was stored in plaintext, making it easy for unauthorized users to read and misuse. Not only was this information unencrypted, but it also was accessible through a public-facing, widely used website. This enabled any attacker that compromised the website’s server to immediately have access to this sensitive personal data in plaintext,” the opinion stated, listing multiple citations. “It also failed to encrypt its highly vulnerable mobile applications, meaning that in addition to keeping sensitive data unencrypted in its own systems, it also failed to encrypt data being transmitted over the internet… And, when Equifax did encrypt data, it left the keys to unlocking the encryption on the same public-facing servers, making it easy to remove the encryption from the data.”

Equifax’s 2017 breach exposed the personal information of 148 million people.  In July, it was announced that Equifax reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, agreeing to pay between $330 million to $425 million to a restitution fund for victims.

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

Get daily email updates

SC Media's daily must-read of the most current and pressing daily news

By clicking the Subscribe button below, you agree to SC Media Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.